Shoppers are changing – is your pharmacy?

New Project (68)

What you need to know to update your shelves and shopping experience

In brief:

  • Don’t assume you know why people come to your pharmacy or what they want
  • Understand consumer trends and adapt to meet changing needs
  • From skin care products to online shopping, don’t miss trends that could send shoppers to other stores

Shoppers’ desires and buying habits change over time. A pharmacy that doesn’t evolve as trends change will miss sales.

No one could have predicted the pandemic or the changes in buying behavior it brought. A few of those surprising changes include:

  • Not allowing in-person shopping in many pharmacies for a period of time
  • Sales of cough-and-cold products dropping dramatically

Those who study consumer habits now see several trends continuing or emerging. Are you prepared to take advantage of these opportunities?


Self-care, from gut to glow

If you think shoppers are coming in only to pick up prescriptions, think again.

When HRG (Hamacher Resource Group) surveyed shoppers at independent pharmacies, 44% said their primary reason for being in the store that day was to prevent illness and/or stay well.¹ Other reasons were to maintain their health, to care for someone else or to recover.

“This is a trend that’s not going away. This is not a pandemic-driven start and end. This is something that is going to carry on,” said Dave Wendland, HRG’s vice president, strategic relations. “Consumers really are looking to protect themselves on both the outside of their bodies and the inside,” he said.

Based on consumers’ mindsets, look carefully at these categories:

  • Vitamins and dietary supplements. Shoppers spent more dollars on vitamins and dietary supplements than any other health, beauty and wellness category.

Sales of these items surged early in the pandemic and was still higher than average in July. Some people may have started supplements because of COVID-19 and continued. Over the long term, concerns about aging, mental health, nutrition and more are driving sales.²

  • Skin care. Spending hours each day looking at themselves during on-screen meetings, along with irritations from wearing masks and frequent hand washing/sanitizing, may have heightened consumers’ attention to their skin in the last year, but that’s not the only factor. Just over half of shoppers said skin care was the top personal care category they shopped for at their independent pharmacy, and was in the top 10 sales for the HBW (health, beauty and wellness) category. Skincare is the fastest growing segment of the beauty market.³


Personal care categories customer shop at their independent pharmacy



Health and wellness categories that shoppers wished contained more products



They care about labels, but not necessarily brands

Nearly half of shoppers, 49%, buy natural products. “Natural continues to be a growing trend, as well as cause-based, value-based shopping,” Wendland said. Shoppers may be looking for products with ingredients they can pronounce or an assurance that cosmetics weren’t tested on animals.

Also, nearly a third of shoppers increased their purchase of private label products over the past year. Price is the key factor for many (57%), but others (32%) cited recommendations as the reason for their private label purchase. “You can’t eliminate the brands completely,” Wendland said, but he encourages community pharmacies to:

  • Offer a consistent private label, such as the Health Mart brand
  • Make it easy to find these products on shelves
  • Be well educated on the benefits of these products to make knowledgeable recommendations

Private label products can be a good value for shoppers and more profitable for pharmacies.


Make shopping even easier

From curbside pickup to expanded delivery, independent pharmacies quickly adapted to shopping changes during the pandemic. “I am so impressed with the perseverance of independent pharmacies and their ability to adjust their business model to the needs of the community,” Wendland said.

When the pandemic ends, don’t expect consumers to flock back to their old shopping habits.

  • 19% of pharmacies already have a way for consumers to shop online for OTC products.
  • 15% said developing an e-commerce solution for nonprescription products is a priority over the next 18 months.

This may mean that consumers shop with a mobile app or buy online and then pick up at your store. “Consumer behavior suggests you’re going to have to get on board. That train has left the station,” Wendland said.

Convenience is the number one reason shoppers choose to buy elsewhere, cited by about a third in the HRG survey; price was far behind, at 14%. If a consumer can click on an order at night or during their lunch break and then pick it up or have it delivered, that convenience can be hard to beat.

Keep in mind that while this data about trends is informative, it comes from national surveys used to identify national trends. Of course, shoppers differ by market and the trends and preferences of your customers may be different. The best way to know what your customers want is to talk with them and to watch your sales data.

What is consistent across all geographies is that consumer attitudes and buying habits are constantly changing, especially in the wake of this unprecedented pandemic. As consumer preferences change, it is important for pharmacy owners to stay attuned to these changes and to change with them.

[1] “Independent Pharmacy Research Study,” Hamacher Resource Group, January, 2021.
[2] “The Top 7 Vitamin and Supplement Trends of 2021,” Katey Davidson, Healthline, March 2, 2021.
[3] “Why Is the Skincare Market Growing at Such Breakneck Speed?” Automat.